Amidst the Carabao and FA Cups, it’s easy to wander into a world where all that matters are cup upsets and domestic football. Of course that’s nonsense, and football fans are really craving the elite of the European game returning to their screens or stadia.
Champions League matches are the pinnacle of the modern game. English teams have been far from that peak in recent years, but 2018 might be the year they return. Five of them are in the last 16 on the route to the big-eared trophy, so here’s an overview of their chances.
Manchester City are the 13/4 favourites to win their first ever Champions League. Pep Guardiola’s side have not been quite the unstoppable force they were in the opening months of the season, but that hasn’t been enough to stop them winning almost all of their matches.
The blip against Liverpool will be drawn upon as a blueprint for teams in this competition. Fortunately for City, though, they were drawn with Basel in the last 16.
That is a tie they should win with ease. It would be one of the great upsets if the Swiss team make it into the quarter-finals.
City obviously have the best chance of any Premier League side, and they are my favourites to win it all right now. Keeping their cushion in the league will be key to keeping players fresh for the latter stages, mind.
The draw for the first knockout round was very Tottenham. The north London club topped a group that included Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid, but still landed a daunting last 16 encounter with Juventus.
The upside is they will be travelling to Turin for the first leg and Max Allegri’s side are not enjoying the same dominance they have in previous years.
The downside for Spurs is their squad remains so thin. Competing on multiple fronts will require superhuman efforts from Harry Kane, Dele Alli and others. Mauricio Pochettino has prioritised a top four finish in the past, and he might do the same this season.
I like Spurs at 16/5 to win away at the Italian champions, even if their chances of going beyond the quarter-finals are limited.
Liverpool qualified as top of their group in emphatic style. The 7-0 win over Spartak Moscow bordered on cruelty, but it did paper over some of the same old problems for Jurgen Klopp’s side.
Yep, that’s the back four and defence again. Virgil van Dijk may help in that regard, though the former Saint cannot actually fix everything himself.
Liverpool have one of the world’s best attacks, however. An attack that no team will be confident of shutting out (unless you’re Swansea, that is).
The tie with Porto, who are flying domestically, is no walkover. The Merseyside giants are still hefty favourites to make it through, though, and are at a decent-looking 13/1 to lift yet another European Cup. Liverpool’s big game record under Klopp is worth remembering for the latter stages of this competition.
Chelsea paid a cruel price for coming second in their group. Yet another Champions League knockout clash with Lionel Messi and Barcelona has Antonio Conte’s team way out at 25/1 to win the competition.
Playing the first leg at Stamford Bridge puts even more pressure on the Blues, who have struggled at the start of 2018. The dependence on Eden Hazard seems to be increasing. He will need to produce one of the best performances of his career if Chelsea are to make it through.
Current performances make it incredibly hard to see Conte’s side doing enough in west London to go to Spain with a chance of progression.
Barcelona to win or draw at the Bridge at 7/20 is good value. Chelsea will need another European miracle to make it through this one. I like the look of Barcelona at 6/1 to win their fifth Champions League of the millennium.
Manchester United face Sevilla in the last 16 having walked to the top of Group A. At 7/20 to see off the La Liga side, it’s clear that Jose Mourinho’s team are strong favourites, and rightly so.
Sevilla took just nine points in their group, winning only two matches in the process. They are a dangerous side, but are blighted by inconsistency. Their defence is vulnerable, and will likely struggle to contain Manchester United, who will have Alexis Sanchez available.
With the second match being played at Old Trafford, Mourinho will be happy to draw in southern Spain. There are few better managers at setting up to keep the game tight. Under 2.5 goals at 3/4 is a good price.
Winning the league is barely worth considering for United. That might just see Mourinho focus his resources onto the Champions League, which is part of the reason I was so surprised to see them out at 17/1 to win the competition.
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*